Rudaw

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Counter-terrorism coordination has increased since Kadhimi became PM : Coalition spox

Since the appointment of Mustafa al-Kadhimi as Prime Minister of Iraq, efforts to combat terrorism have seen “increased coordination” between Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the US-led coalition, spokesperson Myles Caggins III told Rudaw.

Speaking in a televised interview on Thursday, Caggins said that American-led coalition forces are aiding the ISF’s latest military operation against Islamic State (ISIS) sleeper cells in sparsely-populated areas where they have taken root in Kirkuk and Salahaddin provinces.

“The US-led coalition forces have conducted 20 airstrikes against the ISIS hideouts in support of Iraqi Security Forces in the past three days,” Caggins said.

On Tuesday morning Kadhimi launched the second phase of an operation aimed at purging ISIS remnants from Salahaddin province and Kirkuk, following an earlier operation in isolated regions of Anbar, Nineveh, and Salahaddin that started on May 17.

The military campaign has been styled with the name: “Iraqi Heroes – Victory for Sovereignty,” the prime minister’s office announced on Twitter. The multi-pronged offensive involves eight different ISF partners including local and federal police, special forces, security and intelligence cooperation between the Iraqi Air Force and international coalition warplanes.

“The US-led coalition has increased its coordination with the Iraqi Security Forces since Mustafa al-Kadhimi became the new Iraqi Prime Minister,” Caggins said. “The coalition is in continuous talks with the Iraqi security forces, especially the Iraqi counter terrorism forces,” he said.

US forces have withdrawn from several Iraqi bases in recent months as part of a general repositioning in response to successes in the campaign to defeat ISIS and to protect personnel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the space of a month, the US-led coalition has handed over control of six military bases to the ISF, including Abu Ghraib near Baghdad, K1 in Kirkuk, al-Qaim near the Syrian border, Qayyarah in western Iraq, al-Sqoor in Mosul, and Al-Taqaddum in Anbar.

ISIS views the withdrawal as an opportunity to spread its insurgency and has vowed to exploit the drawdown of American troops in Iraq, resuming hit-and-run tactics and torching crop fields.

At the height of its power between 2014 and 2016, ISIS seized control of vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, controlling over 100,000 square kilometers and running a complex bureaucracy as a self-proclaimed “caliphate.”

Although the group was declared territorially defeated in Iraq in December 2017 and in Syria in March 2019, ISIS has continued to launch attacks, including kidnappings, assassinations, and ambushes, particularly in rural areas.

ISIS has been held responsible for a spate of attacks on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and units of PMF. On May 15, two soldiers were killed and four wounded when a convoy was hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in northern Baghdad province, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said. ISIS later claimed responsibility for the blast.

These follow a spate of attacks in early May, the deadliest of which saw ten PMF fighters killed in a five-pronged assault in Salahaddin on May 2.

On the same day, militants killed three federal police officers and wounded two others in an attack on Zaghniya police station in Diyala province.

These attacks came immediately after the Iraqi parliament approved most of Kadhimi’s cabinet, which signaled that combating ISIS remnants would be a cornerstone of his government’s agenda.

Since Kadhimi took office, three ISIS leaders have been killed by coalition airstrikes in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor.

Senior ISIS figure Mootaz Noman al-Jubouri, whom ISIS had appointed the wali, or “governor” of Iraq, was confirmed dead in a statement by Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces (ICT)on May 26.

The US-led coalition confirmed the death of two ISIS leaders in an airstrike in late May.

In its latest assessment, the Pentagon describes ISIS remnants are “regrouping and reforming”in Iraq and Syria, and able to sustain a low-level Insurgency, but are unable to hold territory.

“USCENTCOM said the decrease in attacks in Syria this quarter was ‘strong evidence’ that ISIS is not ‘making a comeback’,” the report read. Source